Thursday Night Football Preview
Welcome back to the Gridiron Experts Thursday Night Football Preview! Last week, I had the Rams winning the game 28-23, therefore taking the Vikings +7. Well, the game was a shootout, with the teams combining for over 1,000 total yards. In the end, the Rams won by a score of 38-31, proving that Vegas had the line right all along. I was correct in choosing the Rams to win the game straight-up, while I pushed against the spread. Onto Week 5!
Brad’s TNF Picks Season Record: 3-1 Straight-Up | Against the Spread: 2-1-1
Colts at Patriots
Patriots -10 | Over/Under 51.5
After an exciting Week 4, football fans are now shifting their attention to this Thursday Night showdown where the Indianapolis Colts will visit the New England Patriots. The Patriots are currently (-10) favorites at home. At the time of writing, the forecast looks glum for the contest, with some wind, a chance of showers, and a crisp fall temperature.
Last week, Brady & Co. jumped out to a 24-0 halftime lead and never looked back, eventually winning 38-7. On the other hand, the Colts dropped a back-and-forth overtime affair to the Texans. The most enduring memory of this game, however, won’t be the Colts’ 4th quarter comeback. Instead, many will remember Frank Reich’s decision to go for it on 4th and 4 with less than 30 seconds left on his own 43-yard line. Luck’s pass fell incomplete, and the Texans took over. After a Deshaun Watson pass brought them within range, the Texans kicked a Field Goal to win it; thus, taking away the potential Tie the Colts could have earned by simply punting the ball away.
The Patriots still have a lot to prove to their critics, as a 2-2 start is far from “Belichickian.” However, Josh McDaniels’ offense has been known to rise to the occasion, and their legendary QB Tom Brady has faced adversity before. Brady, in his 19th season, has been effective thus far, but hasn’t had a “dominant” performance just yet. All eyes will be on TB12 tomorrow night, as he squares off against a Colts secondary that has been average at best. Brady does his best work in Foxboro, so I wouldn’t be shocked if we saw shades of the reigning MVP emerge on Thursday Night.
Brady and the Patriots will be getting back a major piece of their offense in this contest, as Julian Edelman will return. Edelman was suspended for the first 4 games of the season for allegedly violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. In 2016, Edelman hauled in 98 balls for 1,106 yards. The Patriots are definitely missing Edelman, as RB James White currently leads the team in receptions, and Chris Hogan has been underwhelming.
Currently, everyone is focused on the health of TE Rob Gronkowski. The TE left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, and was absent from Tuesday’s practice. When Gronk plays, opposing defenses usually have to bring a Safety over the top to help cover him. Such a dynamic opens up the defense, allowing their other playmakers to expose any holes. However, if Gronkowski isn’t on the field, opposing defenses can be more creative with their coverage, instead of having to account for a 6’6’ 270 lb. behemoth with freakish hands.
As mentioned, the Patriots recently acquired WR Josh Gordon from the Browns, and while he made his debut last week, he only played 20% of snaps. Gordon did make a moderate impact in those snaps, though, hauling in both targets for 32 yards. I expect Gordon to take things slow, as he’s currently hampered by a hamstring injury, and is learning the playbook. We all know Gordon has the ability to take over a game, but I think the Patriots have the luxury to ease him along. While I wouldn’t expect his role to be massive on Thursday night, Gordon has proved he can break free at a moment’s notice.
In the backfield, RB James White has been incredibly effective in the early going. With the losses of Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead to injury, and Sony Michel getting acclimated to the NFL, New England has leaned on White to produce—which he has. Through 4 games, White has totaled 303 all-purpose yards, most coming through the air. His 4 TD are the most on the team, and his 8.8 yards per reception show that he brings a tricky dynamic for defenses to account for. Sony Michel has slowly been ramping up his role in the offense, and last week, he took 25 carries for 112 yards and a TD. Should he continue to be as effective, the Patriots would have a fantastic 1-2 punch on the ground.
The visiting Colts will be led by QB Andrew Luck, who missed the entire 2017 season. Luck’s return has been a mixed bag, with a few solid efforts, and a few that weren’t so great. Last week was one of the solid efforts, though, as Luck threw for 464 yards, 4 TD, and 0 INT. Luck wasn’t without blemishes, though, as he fumbled twice, losing one of them. All things considered, everyone is happy to see him back on the field. But, with such a layoff comes concern of fatigue. Luck threw the ball 62 times in last week’s loss. Take that volume and combine it with a short week of prep and rest, and I’ll be interested to see if he can still sling it as effectively on Thursday Night.
Much to their dismay, it sounds like the Colts will be without their best receiver and all-around athlete. Hilton exited last week’s contest after grabbing his hamstring during a route late in the game. After not practicing Tuesday, Frank Reich sounded very pessimistic about Hilton’s chances to play. Without him, the Pats will certainly worry less about the deep ball.
Instead, the onus will fall on WRs Ryan Grant, Chester Rogers, and Zach Pascal to produce. So far this season, their collective opportunities have been limited. Overall, they’ve combined for less than 100 yards per game, and totaling 3 TD. One of them will have to step up if the Colts want to compete in this contest.
The Colts’ passing attack, however, does commonly run through their TE and RBs. TE Jack Doyle seems unlikely to play. But, Eric Ebron has flourished this season, posting 3 TDs and proving to be a favored Red Zone target. In his first season with Indianapolis, Ebron has seemed to mesh well with Luck. Should their connection continue to develop, it might prove to bring a scary dynamic to this pass-heavy offense.
The offense has, indeed been pass-heavy thus far, due to the absence of RB Marlon Mack. After missing the past two weeks with a nagging hamstring injury, Mack will be held out again this week. Jordan Wilkins will fill in as the primary between-the-tackles runner, while rookie RB Nyheim Hines is much more versatile. In Week 4, Hines led the team with 11 targets, and figures to be heavily involved again this week. His 3 TDs are tied for the team lead, and will certainly keep the Patriots on their toes on Thursday. Let’s not forget, though, they see someone similar every day in practice in James White.
On Defense, the Patriots haven’t been stellar this year, allowing 20+ points in 3 of their 4 contests. LBs Dont’a Hightower & Kyle Van Noy will play an important role in containing the Colts’ offense, which is likely to be heavy with short & mid-range passes, and runs.
Look for them to match up with Eric Ebron, and Nyheim Hines coming out of the backfield. Adrian Clayborn, Malcom Brown, and Trey Flowers will look to take the run game away early. Should they do that, the Colts will have to lean on the heavily-used Luck to throw the ball a ton in the second half. In the secondary, experienced veterans Stephon Gilmore, Patrick Chung, and the McCourty twins will provide an advantage over the Colts’ inexperienced receiver group.
For Indianapolis, Darius Leonard has been one of the best defensive rookies in football through 4 games. The rookie has tallied 54 combined tackles and 4 sacks. However, Leonard injured his ankle in Sunday’s contest, and he’s apparently on the wrong side of Questionable leading up to Thursday. To add concern, Clayton Geathers was also absent from practice Tuesday. Geathers has added 39 tackles through Week 4, and has been a mainstay in the lineup. Needless to say, missing Leonard and/or Geathers would be terrible for the Colts’ chances.
It doesn’t help matters that they’ll be facing off against the mastermind coach Bill Belichick and reigning league MVP Tom Brady. DE Margus Hunt has been a bright spot early on for the Colts with 4 sacks; Hunt, Jabaal Sheard and the other Colts pass rushers will need to disrupt Brady’s rhythm early to limit him and keep the game within reach. Finally, DBs Nate Hairston, Kenny Moore, and Malik Hooker will have to slow down the potential trio of Gronk, Josh Gordon, and Julian Edelman. Should Gronk be inactive, the task gets more palatable, but still not an easy proposition.
Both teams are a bit banged up, but I think the Patriots’ depth will be the difference-maker in this one. While their Defense isn’t quite performing at an elite level, New England’s offense is flush with options. Andrew Luck might struggle without Hilton and Doyle. Furthermore, I believe the weather & Sunday’s 62-throw game could slow Luck down. Look for the Pats to jump out to an early lead, with Brady & James White leading the charge. In the second half, look for Sony Michel to take over the game. The absence of Darius Leonard will definitely open up some lanes for the rookie. I see Michel getting the ball 20+ times again, and eclipsing 100 yards.
Give me New England in this one, both straight up, and to cover the -10 spread. I’ll take the Patriots, by a score of 33-20.
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